Media Mix, Oct. 16, 2021

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which covers a documentary feature about climate crisis activist Greta Thunberg and Japan’s own response to the crisis. After I wrote the column, Syukuro Manabe won a Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in “physical modeling of Earth’s climate.” During the press conference following the announcement, a member of the committee was asked if the prize was supposed to send a message to world leaders about the importance of the climate crisis, and the answer was that if any world leader hadn’t gotten the message yet it’s doubtful the prize would make them get it now. This is a slightly more diplomatic way of saying the same thing that Greta Thunberg has been harping on for three years: we can nag and nag, but until something concrete is actually done, we can’t trust any governments to act on all the promises they keep making. It would be nice if Manabe’s award stimulated the Japanese media to prod the Japanese government into some kind of demonstrable action. As pointed out in the column, last year when he was prime minister, Yoshihide Suga pledged to reduce greenhouse gases to zero by 2050, but in the meantime has the government acted on that pledge in any way? Perhaps one year is not enough, but as Greta has made abundantly clear, we’ve already wasted too much time. The crisis is upon us and each day we don’t act brings us closer to a tipping point where there is no turning back. 

In any case, the media hasn’t really used Manabe’s win to bring greater attention to the climate crisis in Japan, where it’s never been much of a story. First of all, Manabe, though born in Japan, works and lives in the U.S., and from statements he’s made that have been covered much more thoroughly than his research, he doesn’t seem interested in coming back to Japan for any reason. Secondly, he seems to want to avoid getting into any possible political controversy by talking about the climate crisis. He’s just a scientist who has come up with a method for studying climate changes more accurately. The fact is, Japan really needs a young person, a Greta of its own, to bring the issue to bear on those who make the decisions, because it’s young people who will have to put up with the long-term effects of climate change and global warming, and until the Japanese media takes the matter as seriously as some media do in the West, it will be difficult to transfer that sense of crisis to the young people who will be tomorrow’s leaders. But maybe that has more to do with political realities in Japan than it does with media complacency. 

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